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Comment: Come on Europe, pool that fuel

Europe's slow pace of progress in developing shared military capabilities will again be put to the test in early February, when 26 EU countries will be urged to address a critical shortfall in air-to-air refuelling.

Despite having an annual budget of only €32 million ($45 million) and just 110 staff, the European Defence Agency says it will "confront the nations", after spending almost five years asking them to consider approving funds for a pooled fleet of multirole tanker/transports.

Only seven European nations currently possess tanker aircraft, but many more have a requirement to use what is an expensive capability to acquire, and an at-best difficult one to barter access to.

The more than 25-year success of the multinational NATO Early Warning and Control Force and the recent acquisition of three Boeing C-17 strategic transports by a 12-country consortium should be proof enough of what can be done in partnership. The Heavy Airlift Wing delivered vital humanitarian aid to earthquake-affected Haiti just months after fielding its C-17s.

A small European fleet of tanker aircraft - or even a commitment to buy services from a commercial supplier, such as the already circling Omega Air - would further boost co-operation between air forces, and enable smaller nations to deploy aircraft more easily for international training, peacekeeping or even combat missions. That can only be good for all concerned.

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